Since I first started collecting vinyl in the early seventies, I’ve noticed that with the advent of new mediums like the compact disc, that albums nowadays are much longer. Now albums are sprawling affairs, lasting up to eighty minutes. This new development isn’t necessary a good development. Back when The O’Jays released So Full of Love, it featured just eight songs, and lasted just thirty-nine minutes. This was about all you could fit on one album. So, what you had back then was just one great song after another. If you look back at other similar albums, their brevity equated to quality. Nowadays, artists think that they need to fill the whole eighty minutes. Often, they don’t do this wisely, with the dreaded “bonus track” or “alternate mix.” These additions aren’t necessary welcome additions, and may have been best left on the cutting room floor. Maybe someone should these artists that brevity can equate to quality, After all, how many artists can regularly come up with eighty minutes worth of quality music? Having said that, maybe a group so hugely talented as The O’Jays could’ve managed this, back when they were guided by the legendary Gamble and Huff.

By 1978, The O’Jays were one of the most successful acts on Philadelphia International Records. Since their first album for the label Back Stabbers in 1972, they’d released six albums, four of which had been certified gold and two certified platinum. Three of these albums, Ship Ahoy, Survival and Family Reunion had reached number one in the US R&B Charts. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, seven of their singles had reached number one on the US R&B Charts. However, although The O’Jays were hugely successful, they’d lost one of their original members Bill Powell in 1977. He was terminally ill, and was replaced by Sammy Strain whose first album was 1977s’ Travellin’ At the Speed of Thought. The album had sold well, reaching number twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. Having sold over 500,000 copies, the album was certified gold. What the group couldn’t realize was that their next album So Full of Love would eclipse the success of all their previous albums.

Like before, The O’Jays headed to the famous SIgma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where so many of the Philadelphia International albums were recorded. In total, six of the songs were recorded at Sigma, with Brandy and This Time Baby recorded at the Kaye-Smith Studios in Seattle. During 1977 and 1978, the group recorded eight songs with Gamble and Huff the album with the help of a number of other people, including Thom Bell and Bunny Sigler. Of the eight songs, Gamble and Huff wrote three of them, including the best track on the album Used Ta Be My Girl. It was the second single released from the album, and reached number one in the US R&B Charts and number four in the US Billboard 100. The first single was Brandy, another of the album’s highlights, penned by Joseph Jefferson and Charles Simmons. When it was released, it only reached number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts and number seventy-nine in the US Billboard 100. However, when So Full of Love was released, it reached number one in the US R&B Charts and number six in the US Billboard 200. This was the group’s fourth number one album, and their highest chart placing in the US Billboard 200, eclipsing the number seven Family Reunion reached in 1975. As if that wasn’t enough, So Full of Love also gave the group their fourth platinum album, having sold over one million copies. Now that I’ve told you the background to So Full of Love, I’ll tell you just what it sounds like.

So Full of Love opens with Sing My Heart Out, the first of the three Gamble and Huff penned tracks. It’s a slow, dramatic sound that opens the track, with a piano and horns combining, before the vocal enters. It too is slow, heartfelt and laden with emotion. It’s accompanied by the rest of the group singing tight vocal harmonies, while the rhythm section enter, playing with a subtly. In doing so, they help to achieve a hugely dramatic sound, which is added to by chiming, shimmering guitars and the lushest of slow strings. Later, when the lead vocal changes hands, it grows in power and emotion, with the whole group contributing to a deeply moving performance. So does the arrangement grow in power and drama, with the rhythm section providing the song’s heartbeat, while a piano and rasping horns add to the sense of drama. When combined with the vocal, it’s a drama laden, emotive opening to the album, demonstrating just why The O’Jays were one of the best soul groups back then in 1978.

She Used Ta Be My Girl is a song I’ve loved since the single was first released. It has a very different sound and tempo to the opening track. Whereas Sing My Heart Out was slow and dramatic, She Used Ta Be My Girl is quicker and joyous sounding. This is apparent from the chiming guitars that open the track. They combine with the rhythm section and sweeping strings while The O’Jays sing sweet, tight harmonies. Then when the lead vocal enters, it’s strong, full of emotion and regret, at the loss of the girl he once loved, but lost. The interplay between lead vocal and the rest of the group in brilliant, they seem to feed of one another, encouraging the other to greater things, resulting is one of the best songs they ever recorded. Meanwhile, punchy drums add a sense of drama and highlight the loss he’s feeling, while strings sweep in and horns rasp. All of this, and the quicker tempo works perfectly, resulting in one of The O’Jays most successful and best loved songs. However, this wouldn’t have been possible without Gamble and Huff who wrote and produced the track, and Jack Faith who arranged it.

I always think that the track that follows a truly brilliant song like She Used Ta Be My Girl, will always end up being judged unfavorably, because the natural thing is to compare it with what’s preceded it. That’s something I avoid doing, and judge each song on its merits, like Cry Together, the third Gamble and Huff penned track. It’s about a relationship that hasn’t been working and they’ve not been talking about their problems. Having realized that by talking about things, eventually, things will get better. Like many Gamble and Huff songs, there’s a story to the song, and a message within the song. Choosing The O’Jays to sing the song was a masterstroke. When the track opens, the tempo is slow, the sound understated, just sweeping strings, drums and chiming guitars, providing the backdrop for the half-spoken vocal. This gives way to a sweet, then hugely emotive, sad vocal, sung against a backdrop that now includes keyboards. It’s a hugely powerful track, one that’s drenched in emotion and sadness, sung with passion and feeling by The O’Jays against a classic Gamble and Huff arrangement. Although very different from the previous track, it’s another fantastic track from The O’Jays.

The final song of side one is This Time Baby, arranged and produced by Thom Bell. A combination of swirling, sweeping strings, driving rhythm section, piano and guitars open the track, before a flourish of drums and strings signals the entrance of the vocal. Against a fast moving arrangement, Eddie promises that this time their love will work. Meanwhile, Walt and Sammy contribute backing vocals, while blazing horns, swirling strings funky guitars and a punchy rhythm section combine to create a fast, fulsome and driving arrangement. Combined with the powerful vocal, it’s a winning combination that sees Thom Bell successfully mix elements of soul and funk to create a magnificent and memorable track.

Side two opens with Brandy, which was released as a single, but somehow, only reached number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts and number seventy-nine in the US Billboard 100. This has always struck me as strange, given how good a track it is. Written by Joseph Jefferson and Charles Simmons and produced and arranged by Thom Bell it had everything going for it, a slow tempo, full of slow, lush strings and a vocal laden with regret and sadness. From the start, when keyboards, a slow rhythm section, guitars and shimmering, sweeping strings combine slowly and dramatically, the scene is set for the vocal. It too, is full of sadness and regret, struggling to get over his girlfriend leaving him. Subtle backing vocals cut in, while the strings and keyboards are key to the tracks success. Later a harp enters, adding just the final touch to what’s a heart-achingly beautiful, sad track. Thirty-four years after its release, like a good wine, Brandy matures with age, into a vintage O’Jays track.

As Take Me To the Stars opens, various space-age noises give way, to a dance-floor friendly arrangement of a pounding rhythm section, dramatic keyboards, chiming guitars and percussion. In front of that, sits Eddies’ charismatic, joyful vocal with Walt and Sammy providing backing vocals. Braying horns join the mix, while strings sweep, on what’s a very different sounding track. It’s neither the tempo nor style that’s different, but the lyrics and their cosmic references. Having said that, it isn’t a bad song, quite the opposite. It’s a hook-laden, driving, dance-floor friendly track, produced by Eddie Levert, Walt Williams and Dennis Williams, and arranged by Dennis Williams. Together, they give us a glimpse of a very different, but catchy, hooky side of The O’Jays.

After the quite different sound of the previous track, The O’Jays are back on familiar territory on Help (Somebody Please), a slow ballad. It opens with the rhythm section and guitars combining with shimmering strings. A lengthy introduction gives way to vocal full of sadness and regret, caused by the break of a relationship. Key to the success of the track is a slow, thoughtful bass line, drama drenched sweeping strings and a hugely emotive vocals and backing vocals. Like the previous track, it’s produced by Eddie Levert, Walt Williams and Dennis Williams, and arranged by Dennis Williams. However, it’s the complete opposite of that track, being slow, emotive and hugely moving. The arrangement is pretty special, with the addition of a piano complementing the strings, rhythm section and vocals perfectly. By the end of the track, it’s almost impossible to be moved by the sheer gut-wrenching emotion of this hugely moving track.

So Full of Love closes with Strokety Stroke, a Bunny Sigler penned and produced track, arranged by Jack Faith, one of Philadelphia International’s best arrangers. With personnel like this writing, producing and arranging the track, this is the recipe for yet another great track. It doesn’t disappoint when the track bursts into life, a gruff, throaty vocal sung against a quick arrangement that combines soul and funk. There’s almost a later period Temptations sound and feel to the track. A driving, punchy rhythm section and guitars provide a funk influence which is added to when horns blaze in. Meanwhile the vocal has a soulful sound, with just a hint of funk sneaking through. Keyboards and percussion complete what is a fast, furious and funk drenched track that never forgets it soulful roots. Although quite different from other tracks on the album, you can’t fault the emotion and passion displayed by Eddie, Walt and Sammy during this track.

Although The O’Jays would released seven further albums on Philadelphia International, only Identify Yourself would match the success of So Full of Love and their earlier albums. It reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts, and was certified platinum. After that, although their albums were still popular, especially in the US R&B Charts, they never hit their earlier heights. So Full of Love was The O’Jays most successful album, eclipsing the success of classic albums like Back Stabbers, Ship Ahoy and Family Reunion. 

On So Full of Love were some brilliant tracks including the two singles She Used Ta Be My Girl and Brandy. However, there was much more to So Full of Love than the two singles, with tracks like Cry Together, This Time Baby and Help (Somebody Please) all featuring the trademark O’Jays sound. All of these tracks combine to create an excellent album, and is one of the albums that made The O’Jays one of the most successful and popular soul groups ever. Even today, their music is still loved and cherished by millions of people worldwide. Thanks to Gamble and Huff the group from Canton, Ohio had come a long way since they formed in 1963. After all, how may other groups had four number one US R&B albums, four gold albums and four platinum albums? Standout Tracks: She Used Ta Be My Girl, Cry Together, Brandy and Help (Somebody Please).


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